Women of Tech
Tech is just getting a toehold in northern Michigan and women in that field here say there is great opportunity for growth, but much remains to be done. “It’s hard. It’s a region where there isn’t a huge emphasis in technology, so there’s room for growth,” said Margaret Fako, business architect for Interlochen Center for the Arts. “It’s an opportunity.”
Below, tech-minded women in and around northern Michigan chime in about the opportunities awaiting the area.
Community Manager Stephanie Coate keeps local startup incubator 20Fathoms running smoothly, which means the wearing of many hats. Coate is responsible for managing the space, coordinating events and programs, marketing, presenting, and most importantly, she said, “[h]elping members get to do whatever they want to do!”
New to town from Chicago, her background is a combination of the arts and tech, which found a marriage in an e-commerce network she co-founded for artists. Coate said she is eager to explore the Traverse tech scene. “I didn’t know there was such a booming tech and startup scene — but it makes total sense,” she said. “What’s so different about Traverse City is the general public and the community that’s so involved.”
Like her tech colleagues, she has noticed a lack of women in her field and in her office. “A big problem that’s obvious is the lack of females in the space,” said Coate. She wants to encourage more women to come to 20Fathoms, and also for them to use technology to even bond a bit. “A lot of lifestyle and creatively focused women up here are using technology to further their businesses — we need to tap into that more,” she said.
Margaret Fako’s work at Interlochen Center for the Arts as a business architect centers around the offices of admission and financial aid. She is a business process mapper, or auditor of the department’s current processes. Her job is to identify pieces in the process that can be automated, such as which new applicants receive what kind of materials based on information in their application. Right now, the big focus is customer service and engagement within the Interlochen community.
Another aspect of Fako’s job is her work with Salesforce, which is a cloud-based customer relationship management platform. Fako is a Salesforce MVP, which is a title Salesforce gives to leaders within the Salesforce customer community. In fact, Fako leads the Michigan nonprofit Salesforce user group. “We teach each other things and help each other work on problems,” she said.
In her 11 years in the position, she’s observed that “[t]here’s very little involvement with women in technology” in northern Michigan, but also hopes that women interested in tech will see this need for growth in a positive light. “It’s hard,” she said. “It’s a region where there isn’t a huge emphasis in technology, so there’s room for growth. It’s an opportunity.”
Running the program side of 20Fathoms incorporates classes, workshops, networking and pitching contests among other opportunities. Camille Hoisington is the new director of strategic programs for the local startup incubator. Originally from Ireland, Hoisington lived in New York City for eight years before moving to Traverse City this winter. Hoisington found her passion in the realm of startup ecosystems. While in New York, she worked for an economic development corporation for downtown Brooklyn where she ran the tech innovation program to support local startups, and before that she worked as a program director for 1776 — another startup incubator
Right now, she’s busy working on building a mentor network for 20Fathoms members and identifying tech clusters in northwest Michigan. Energizing the Traverse area tech scene is “all about creating resilience and looking to the future of our economy,” said Hoisington.
“We want to put northern Michigan on the map as a place that’s a good place to work for tech,” she said.
Coming from New York, the lack of women in the tech scene here has been “a bit of a shock to the system,” said Hoisington. “We’re at the stage where we need to be deliberately thinking about including women in everything we do.”
“Garbage in, garbage out,” said Naveego CEO Katie Horvath. In other words, your data analysis will only be as good as the numbers you analyze. In August 2018, local big data company Naveego brought in Horvath as its CEO. She is currently the only female CEO in big data in the United States. Her company keeps data accurate and is particularly helpful to companies that need to synthesize lots of data from many sources. The software maintains massive amounts of data so that numbers are continually updated and consistent for individual users. Correct or “clean” data is becoming exponentially more important with applications like artificial intelligence becoming much more commonplace.
A patent lawyer with an undergraduate degree in engineering, Horvath is a veteran of Microsoft where she worked as an intellectual property attorney. She now uses her skills and Silicon Valley experience to help put Naveego and the Traverse City tech scene on the map. “People wouldn’t come back home to Traverse City because of the lack of tech jobs in the community, and I’m glad to be a part of that change,” said Horvath.
However, Horvath would like to see more women in her field. “There are not enough women in tech in northwest Michigan,” she said. “That’s something we need to improve upon.”
Naveego is poised to flood the area with techies. More than 400 software developers have applied to work there, and Horvath is excited to be creating jobs in northern Michigan. “We’re growing this company significantly in the next five years,” she said.
A teacher who trains teachers, Kathy Surd is a MiSTEM regional director for the west central region of Michigan and is also an active supporter of the code.org partnership with Michigan. “We train hundreds of teachers all across Michigan in computer science so they can offer computer science classes to their students,” said Surd.
Her experience as a math and science teacher, athletic coordinator, and math/science director greatly enriches her current role and allows her to see past the regulations and new tech directly into the classroom. In the last two years, code.org has worked to support hundreds of teachers across Michigan. “The growth is tremendous,” said Surd.
Of the first year’s cohort, 78 percent of students who took an AP computer science course passed the exam.
“I’m so excited that we can bring this high-quality computer science opportunity to schools anywhere in Michigan,” she said. “Women in technology have so much to offer. Since technology is still primarily a male-dominated field, women have amazing opportunities for career growth and career satisfaction.”
Mary Swarthout, Sue Nolff, Hailey Patterson/Byte Productions
The team at Byte Productions is six people strong. Half of them are women: System Administrator Mary Swarthout, Content Developer Sue Nolff and Programmer Hailey Patterson. They each took a different path to join this Traverse City-based web design company. Swarthout worked for eight years in offshore oil where she wrote lots of code. Nolff’s background is in design and Patterson studied programming at the University of Michigan. They all love being able to bounce ideas and questions around the office.
“I’ve learned so much in a short period of time,” said Swarthout. “The reason for that is it’s such a collaborative office.”
Together, they create websites with unique design and special customizations for each client. In November, the new site for Leelanau Coffee Roasting Co. launched. Patterson built a custom portal for the business’ wholesale clientele.
With the company for nearly 15 years, Nolff has been at Byte the longest of the three. She’s been able to observe the evolution of the tech industry. “It’s changing — it’s definitely changing,” she said. “It used to be that designers and programmers were completely different animals. But now, people are more willing to work together to solve problems and create even better products.”
“Kids in school today are going to be working jobs that don’t exist,” said Drea Weiner. Weiner works for both the state and the region as a network director for MiSTEM, which is a state initiative to make Michigan a “world leader in STEM education.” She described herself as “the person who makes all the connections for people.” In the seven county region under her purview, she works to familiarize kids with the potential opportunities in STEM occupations.
She’s particularly excited to show girls that there’s no need to feel intimidated by jobs in tech.
“I always try to push the girls to look at what’s going on in society right now: ‘You’re a fantastic priority and you’re a minority. They’re going to want you beyond the fact that you’re a fantastic programmer!’” she said.
After the standardized Advanced Placement testing this spring, students will be participating in an app building competition that will be judged by community partners in tech. It is hoped that the competition will include a panel of local professionals in STEM who can answer any questions the students might have about pursuing it as a career. “I go to TC New Tech every month and there’s someone asking for programmers every month,” Weiner said.
She’s adamant that the way to find skilled workers is to make them. “If you want the employees with these skills, then you’re going to have to articulate those needs to the schools,” she said.
“It’s challenging, fun, and rewarding,” said Jodie Wick of her position at Munson Healthcare.
In her role as system director of information systems, she is responsible for all of the applications implemented and support for the Munson Healthcare organization. It covers a wide range of programs and systems, such as electronic health records, corporate financial management, pharmacy operations, and patient registration among others.
Munson is currently in the process of transitioning to a single vendor for most of the patient care venues, and this transition is the IT department’s top priority. “This single platform offers so many benefits,” said Wick. “It will enable our caregivers to know as much as is feasibly possible about the patients they are treating.”
A practical application would be the simple coordination of care among Munson’s vast network of specialists and venues.
“In our Munson Healthcare system, women make up over 40 percent of the IT team, and the IT leadership roles are about half and half,” she said.
Wick is proud of these numbers — particularly since her department is one that’s historically been male-dominated. She believes that instilling confidence is key to encouraging girls and women to pursue careers in tech, and that more women in tech is an integral aspect to the growth of the tech community.
“The biggest opportunity to build a larger population of technology talent is with women,” she said.